Friday, August 29, 2014

Adam Schroeder, Let's

The baritone sax has a special place in my listening mind. There are not quite so many of them and as a result perhaps the very good players appear in bold relief all the more readily. Adam Schroeder is one of them out there doing it today. If I am not mistaken the last album of his I covered was back in 2010 when the Gapplegate Guitar Blog carried some of the jazz overspill, guitar or bass or not.

Today we get with his latest, Let's (Capri 74134-2). The date gives us another straightforward, hard-blowing Schroeder bop-and-after sampler. He's teamed up with John Clayton, a fine bassist, Anthony Wilson on guitar and Jeff Hamilton on drums. Jeff most jazz listeners will know for his way and his many album appearances. Anthony Wilson perhaps is not as well known but serves up some tasteful rootsy solos and comps effectively.

The material is a good mix of Schroeder originals and some classics by Stevie Wonder, Duke Pearson--and Thad Jones on the title tune, among others.

This has some of the old Blue Note sound in the way the band digs in. Adam goes at you with strong tone and plenty of all the right notes for the hard bop-bebop mode. He shines forth and the band keeps right with him with their own individual contributions.

If you dig a good baritone player, Let's gives you plenty to appreciate.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Karmadog Live, Featuring Greg Pagel and Matt Turner at Culture Cafe

The creative possibilities of live electronics in avant garde music has blossomed in the last few decades, thanks in part to new devices, the laptop and software, among other things. Not everything done out there satisfies completely, of course, because it still has to do with musical creativity, but when everything is right we get something very good to hear.

That's true about Karmadog and their latest album recorded live at Culture Cafe (Ickerrecords), in Manitowoo, WI last year. Karmadog is Matt Turner on electronically altered cello and Greg Pagel on synthesizer. The live set we are concerned with here is a very varied presentation consisting entirely of free improvisations. It comes down on the side of new music more than jazz per se. It has an expanded tonality that usually has a key fulcrum center buried somewhere underneath yet it takes that tonality to the fringes of atonality at times. Other times it is firmly and ambiently tonal.

But it is the electronic sound colors and the pace of each musical section that distinguishes the music and makes it quite interesting. There are a great many more of these open-form live electronic groups out there today than might have been the case 30 years ago, so the competition (for what? Recognition, I guess. Surely not riches) is more fierce. Yet these two artists hold their own quite well in their own way.

I don't suppose I need to tell you that if Billy Joel is your idea of great music this may jar you to the roots of your teeth. But to make comparisons this is not as much a noise-oriented music than some other outfits out there so that if anybody will win over the Billy Joel fan, it will be Matt and Greg. Seriously though, that is not going to happen very often. This music will satisfy the dedicated follower of avant garde fashion. But no, fashion does not fit either, since this sort of thing is more anti-fashion.

The truth is, this may not be the place to start if you know nothing of the avant garde. Now if you Google "avant garde" as I just did you'd get 79,700,000 results in 0.37 seconds, so we are not talking about anything ephemeral any more. We have had 100 years or more of it. It may not surface in homespun circles very often, but it is very real and very much alive. Is it universally beloved? Hardly. And all 79,700,000 hits may not be positive. My partner's blank-to-English dictionary from years ago defined "beatnik" as a particular group of godless, immoral people, which perhaps misses the essence of that movement! So some things don't get beyond the "in" group intact, as that definition shows dramatically. Just an aside. It's what I face every day when communicating in these missives. How to get others involved outside of the usual converts?

Nevertheless Karmadog fits in well with all of it. This album is no marginal exercise in obscurity. It is pleasingly mellifluous, out music from two cogent improvisers who hit on good things throughout the set.

So go for it if you can see yourself listening to this and liking it. I did. Like it, I mean.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Cory Wright Outfit, Apples + Oranges

Cory Wright has conquered musical space. It's incontrovertable, as the old Castro Convertible ad jingle used to have it (if anybody remembers that). He's done it especially with his album Apples + Oranges (SingleSpeed Music 012).

What we have on this set is a freely propulsive outing by the Cory Wright Outfit, which has Cory on tenor sax and b-flat clarinet, Evan Francis on alto sax and flute. Rob Ewing on trombone, Lisa Mezzacappa on contrabass and Jordan Glenn, drums.

This is freebop at times, other times free new music that swings brightly, a collective froth well-structured and well-played by all involved. Cory writes some excellent charts here and the band comes through with fire and individual sounds that blend wonderfully well.

It has the tang of modern harmony, the afterbop glow and personal expression of a Dolphy or Mingus of today. That does not mean that anyone as a soloist has reached that plane, and after all how many today could you say that of? But they are very much playing every note right and with feeling, and the compositions give you a great deal to appreciate.

It's a kicker with an iconoclastic razz to the complacent and staid. It is the opposite of a safe and middle-of-the-road old man version of jazz. We need that opposite, that friction against the obvious more than ever if the music is to stay healthy and relevant.

This one is as healthy and relevant as anything today. It's freely outside but composed and performed with a real flair.

I wish this outfit much success. More from them would do just fine with me.

Definitely important music. I recommended you hear it!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Sly 5th Ave Presents Akuma

Sly 5th Ave (aka Sylvester Uzoma Onyejiaka II) makes his debut with Akuma (TRR-014). Still in his early 20s, Sly plays sax (tenor mostly) and writes/arranges a series of pieces for a full ensemble--a sextet augmented at times by additional winds, piano-organ, guitar, violin and voice. The music as Bob Belden in Sly's liners points out represents jazz out of the African diaspora. Sly presents an attractive Afro-jazz blend that does strongly resonate with some of the very promising sounds of jazz that were happening from the time of Coltrane's death through to the mid-'70s.

What that means is you get a mostly straight-eight percussive togetherness overlayed by well-composed horn and rhythm lines. It has affinities to late Lee Morgan, early-to-mid Elvin Jones, Pharoah Sanders, Herbie Hancock's Mwandishi, mid-period McCoy Tyner, and perhaps even a little Norman Connors.

But that doesn't mean it mimics these artists and their bands as much it draws strength from that tradition. Sly on tenor and Jay Jennings, trumpet, have strong solo presences, among others. The rhythm section of Ross Pederson, drums, Daniel Foose, acoustic bass, Keita Ogawa, percussion, and Cory Henry, keys, gets strong foundational grooves going and locks in.

The compositions have tensile strength and power. It's great to hear a band play in this zone, for there is still much potential to be had from this style of playing. Sly is already making a very good contribution with this music.

It's an album that impresses, an auspicious debut from a very promising tenor-composer-bandleader.

Hear Sly 5th Ave!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Vana Gierig, Making Memories, with Special Guest Paquito d' Rivera

Vana Gierig has a way with the piano--rhapsodic, rhythmically vital and as accomplished in his touch as he is in vertical-horizontal note choice. He can get a real froth going when he sees fit, but it's only part of what he is after as an artist-player-composer. His album Making Memories (Enja 9597-2) gives us beautiful evidence of this. Nicely swinging, Latin charged, sometimes classically influenced music is the order of the day with compositions of originality and flair, playing of real note from Vana, and an assortment of sidemen who tune in fully to the Gierig sound.

Stalwart Paquito d'Rivera plays clarinet for half the album and sounds every bit as good as ever, though oft'times as much a timbral color as an improvised voice. The acoustic bass chair is adeptly shared by Sean Conly and Matthew Parrish; drums are well represented by Marcello Pellitteri, with Gene Jackson substituting on one track; percussion gets its due with Vinicius Barros; and three tracks add violin and cello.

Nevertheless there is a piano trio plus percussion nucleus that makes the bulk of the sound what it is, with d'Riviera adding another inimitable voice.

The songs and arrangements stand out in an evolved way, the Latin element seeming natural and unforced as the main groove element but in conjunction with the very musical pianism of Gierig.

No notes are superfluous. Everything counts and does so with smarts. And the music is sophisticated enough that "mainstream" disappears in the sense of cliched returns and instead makes way for tonal eloquence.

Friday, August 22, 2014

David Helbock's Random/Control, Think of Two

When you "think of two", you may find yourself thinking about Thelonious Monk's classic piece, "Think of One". So then what is the "two"? In a way that's the idea behind David Helbock's Random/Control and their album title, Think of Two (Traumton Records 4599). The one and two of this album consists of the music of Thelonious Monk and Brazilian heavyweight Hermeto Pascoal.

Now I and probably you wouldn't ordinarily put the two together in the same breath. And perhaps that's part of what gives this album a certain zing. It's all about the music of the two, juxtaposed and re-arranged in very good ways by a most versatile and multi-instrumental threesome.

Leader David Helbock plays piano, toy piano, melodica and miscellania along with electronics. Johannes Bar plays all manner of brass instruments from trumpet to tuba and beyond, and seconds David in his participation with the electronics. Andreas Broger plays tenor, soprano, clarinet, bass clarinet, slide-trumpet, flute, percussion and, again, has to do with the electronics.

They are all more than creditable on the various instruments. They thrive. But it is especially the intricate, evolved and quirky arrangements in conjunction with great songs that puts this one in a special place.

They chose some Monk and Pascoal winners and weave a pretty zany web of sounds around them. The multi-instrumental capability is something in itself. And then the results are not some kind of gimmickry, but fully "orchestrated" by the instruments at hand. I assume all three had a hand in the arrangements, but in any event they take things outside now and again, creatively construct and destruct the melody lines, and come together with a great good humor and zest.

It's one of those that grows on you the more you listen. It's both fun and quite serious but regardless listening remains a pleasure of surprises throughout.

Check this one out, by all means!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Tone Hunting, Anna Kaluza, Artur Majewski, Rafal Mazur, Kuba Suchar

Not everything in music today can be readily and facilely stuffed into various pre-classified cubicles. That is part of what makes new music "new", of course. It keeps me alert and on my toes, too.

So it goes with today's album, Tone Hunting (Clean Feed 285), a cooperative quartet from Poland that features Anna Kaluza on alto sax, Artur Majewski on trumpet and cornet, Rafal Mazur on acoustic bass guitar and Kuba Suchar on drums and percussion.

There are five improvisations in the free-avant jazz zone to be heard on this one. The longish "Track 1" sets the stage with a pointilistic interplay of phrases that evolves and develops over a free-rhythm background. All give notice that they are entering territory they have scouted out themselves.

The album continues and you start to realize that (connected in some way with the New York Eye and Ear Control classic from the New Thing era) this is especially strong in its collective horn interplay. But not exclusively so in that there are solo spots as well, though to a lesser degree than in a typical free sessions these days.

The textural and temporal ins-and-outs make this ensemble strong. Kaluza and Majewski bond in very interesting ways and the rhythm team provides a strongly assertive, effective underpinning and at the same time can make movements of their own towards the varied yet not obviously explicit goals.

A strong outing. Hear it if you can.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Kidd Jordan, Alvin Fielder, Peter Kowald, Trio and Duo in New Orleans

Three masters of improvised freedom gathered together for the first and only time--in New Orleans, April, 2002. The results form the first half of the 2-CD set Trio and Duo in New Orleans (No Business NBCD 64-65). Kidd Jordon on tenor, Alvin Fielder, drums, and the late Peter Kowald, bass--that's the lineup. And make beautiful music together they did. Mindful of both the past tradition of their art and the potential on the horizon, the free and clear way ahead, they perform as you might hope they would, open to the opportunity to express a significant three-way dialog.

Kidd and Alvin are no strangers to one another as co-members of the Improvisation Arts Ensemble in the '70s, but the time intervening has given them a maturity and even closer rapport without losing the fire and spontaneity of youth. Peter rises with them to the occasion for a marvelous set.

Three years later Fielder and Jordan recorded again, this time as a duet. The resultant set is in every way as good as the trio outing, perhaps even more urgently fired-up.

We all would do well to study these disks, for they contain a summing up statement of where they were at that point in time. For Peter near the end point of his journey, a salute to the excitement of being there with Jordan and Fielder, for the other two a new affirmation of the expressive power the music holds for us.

Beautiful release! Highly recommended.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Harold López-Nussa, New Day

Good, very good Latin Jazz pianists and their music don't come across my desk all that often. When something does, I take notice. Such a pianist, who is around 30 and already very accomplished, is Harold López-Nussa. You can hear him to excellent advantage on his album New Day (Jazz Village 570021).

He appears before us on acoustic and sometimes electric piano, with the backing of a good Latin jazz trio, which means acoustic bass and a drummer fleet on the set and able to cover the Latin percussion nuances as well.

This appears to be an ideal setting to hear Maestro López-Nussa. He is rhythmically very fluid in a Latin core sense and at the same time has a harmonic-melodic jazz sensibility for today, so that the music is driving and contemporary.

The set here is an excellent one. The originals have substance and originality. Harold drives without especially emphasizing the left-hand chording a la McCoy Tyner or Eddie Palmieri, which distinguishes him in part from some of the contemporary Latin jazz pianists out there, though his comping remains strong, just a bit more brittle and varied. There is a well-developed musicality that is apparent and marks him as special.

He is on tour throughout North America this September and October, so if you like what you hear, go to it! The album is a winner on all fronts, a landmark Latin jazz piano album of the last few years, surely.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Natalia M. King, Soulblazz

After many years dealing with downloads, I must pause and say something straight out. For a reviewer they are a nightmare. Unless you already know or don't care much about what you are hearing (as a reviewer the latter is never the case, the former ill-advised as an attitude) they are a computer-jamming array of PDFs, jpegs, web pages, and an extensive labor trying to keep track of where to put what and where you get them when it comes time to refer to them. OK, I've said it.

Now to Natalia M. King, singer extraordinaire who was born in Brooklyn and found herself in Paris years later launching a career. Her latest puts her in a mode that works quite well for her, with a small, talented, soulful band doing various song standards, jazz standards and some not-so-standards (I mean her interesting originals) that bring out the soul and blues in the jazz realm, or, alternately, the jazziness that exists potentially inside the soul blues. Both, really.

The album is Soulblazz (Jazz Village 570031) and it has that certain something that would not exist without Natalia M. King's way with these songs. She has soul, she has the bluesy delivery, but then again she does not sound like what you might expect from that. She has her own way and it reminds me of various singers, mostly long gone, but nothing direct.

She has a voice that pleases without rehearsing the ways of her forebears. And that makes her rather special. I expect she will develop further as she goes along her path. For now she has carved her own niche. Listen!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Cheryl Pyle, Max Ridgway, Randall Colbourne, Modern Art

The trio of Cheryl Pyle, flute, Max Ridgway, electric guitar and Randall Colbourne, drums, is no stranger to these pages. I covered on November 10, 2011 their album "Soul Dust"; "Green Underworld" was reviewed on these pages on May 2, 2013. They return with the latest, "Modern Art". It is for now a download only release, available as mp3's at

It's another good one, having as the encompassing theme modern artists and their work. Each track is a free improv dedicated to a particular artist. The music has a lightly electronic component here and there, mostly if not all a transformation of Max Ridgway's guitar via effects and filtering, according to my ears.

It's free-flow, free-time collective improv mostly all the way, with a very nice interplay between flute, guitar and drums in a relatively laid-back zone that makes for good listening. Cheryl in her very original way works around selected motifs in gently persuasive, new music terms that nevertheless have jazz flow and continuity. Max counters with lines and chords that have a personal stamp and a wide tonality. Randall keeps energy flowing with nice free-time and/or pulsing essays in percussive sound. They all work together to a highly ear-stimulating end. This is one of their best, maybe the best one, ever.

Watch some of the videos showcasing the artists represented and hear some of the music at the same time. Paste the url as follows into your browser for that:

It's an excellent listen.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Peter Friis Nielsen, KALAS

Electric bassist Peter Friis Nielsen may not be very well-known here in the States but he has been an integral component of European and especially Scandanavian free avant jazz improv circles for many years. He steps out with his own trio on the lively EP KALAS (Barefoot Records CD/LP 030).

He looks to the younger generation in Norwegian drummer Håkon Berre and Danish saxophonist Lars Greve for this two-part, 34-minute program. All three get a head of steam going with some very edgy attacks that alternate with the more varied explorations of the dynamics of sound color available to them.

Maestro Neilsen gets leverage and torque in his punchy, wide-ranging electric bass contributions. You can listen to him alone and get something good out of it. Of course it's the trio as a whole however that needs your attention. Håkon Berre uses very creatively the full range of timbre and textures available to him in his percussion-drum array. And Lars Greve brings out the bombastic screech-wail sax tones to the max at times. Other times he is quietly probing in keeping with the trio sound of the moment.

This is not going to win many converts to avant garde improv-jazz I suspect, because it is not in the least bit compromising. But that is fine because it will satisfy those who respond to the edgy improv that has been developing in Europe over the years. On the other hand the electricity of Nielsen gives the music a push into the skronky avant rock zone that may gain the trio happy listeners from that genre as well.

Either way this is real-deal outness that keeps you listening and interested throughout. Grab a copy if you feel that this is for you!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Balance, Adam Unsworth, Byron Olson, John Vanore

Music of a jazz sort for orchestra is not common, mostly these days for economic reasons. It takes funds, and they aren't always available. Often enough in the past, following pop models, the presence of strings as a "sweetener" was the rule of thumb when they were included, especially in the case of singers.

There have been masterful recordings for soloists and orchestra of course, especially from the later '50s on. Ornette Coleman's Skies of America comes to mind, along with several works by Gunther Schuller. Roscoe Mitchell and Anthony Davis are a few others off the top of my head who have done some excellent work.

But it remains uncommon. So when French horn master Adam Unsworth, trumpet-flugelman John Vanore and composer-arranger Byron Olson get together and do a chamber orchestral jazz album, Balance (Acoustical Concepts 48), and it comes out very well, one takes notice.

What we have here is a full program of Olson and Unsworth originals, arranged and orchestrated by Olson (except one by Unsworth). The solo clout of Vanore and Unsworth are out front throughout and they sound quite good indeed. A sextet forms the core of the music--Unsworth, Vanore, plus Bob Mattach on tenor, Bill Mays on piano, Mike Richmond on bass and Danny Gottlieb on drums.They function as the jazz ensemble per se, with rhythm functions, small ensemble functions and soloing--Mays and Mattach and the rhythm get their turns and sound well.

There are two sessions involved, one with a more-or-less full complement of seven string players and then three reeds; the second involving five strings, four reeds and vibes. The sextet is a constant.

What's critical of course is the quality of it all. It's boppish and post-boppish contemporary music, well written, well orchestrated and well played. There is consistently interesting part-writing happening throughout, sometimes contrapuntal, always nicely give-and-take. The mini-orchestra at no time sounds tacked on, but rather is fully integrated throughout, with the sextet sometimes functioning as the soloists in a series of mini-concertos, the orchestra responding to and blending with the small group in concerted form, in various very musical ways. On the other hand there are times when the entire group functions like a big band voiced in sections and/or melding together in complexes/clusters of tone color.

It's high caliber music that bears hearing no matter what your stylistic persuasions may be. Give this one your ears and you will be rewarded!

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Snow Lotus: Improvisations on Tibetan Buddhist Hymns

Those who know the music of Tibet, especially if they grew up imbibing the Nonesuch Explorer Series when it was in full flourish, may mostly know Tibetan Buddhist chant with its basso overtone singing, long trumpets and cymbal-meshing interludes.

Yet of course there is more. Tibetan Buddhist hymns, for example, are more conventionally melodic, more within the realm of song form, and can be quite beautiful and expressive in their own special way.

Examples of those have been available to westerners for years on Folkways Records, among others. But to my surprise there is a new album out that takes some of the hymns and rearranges them for vocals, harp, cello and flute. New age? No, not really, because these arrangements do justice to the originals but contemporize them with western instruments faithful to the tonality of the songs and their peaceful outlook.

The Snow Lotus: Improvisations on Tibetan Buddhist Hymns (RMCD-1052) is the result. As Joshua Cheek puts it in his very poetic liner notes, this is not just music that has beauty; it is about beauty. The songs are haunting, sung with feeling by Tsering Tan. Zhang Xiaoyin has a central role to play on harp. She is excellent. But the cello, flute and vibes players have much to add as well, when called upon to do so.

In Joshua's words the songs are, in the tradition, "strong, but not fierce; yielding, but not formless; pure, but not sterile; soothing, but not spiritless, and hearing them can help purify the hearts of listeners." Well-said and, if you give this music a chance, true.

I probably should resist the wordiness of a continuation. This music does what words alone do not--it conveys the concrete magic of considered tone. And sometimes that is exactly what you need.

Hear this one!

Friday, August 8, 2014

Burton Greene with R*time, Burton's Time

Burton Greene, avant improv icon, pianist, composer, creative force, is not one to pin down. At least, not for long. His lengthy career has been variously documented by some mostly excellent recordings. His movement from station-to-station in his creative life can be fairly well mapped-out by listening to the sequence of albums.

But what matters right now is a recent release out on CIMP (400) of Burton and a Quartet-Quintet, recorded in the States in 2011, namely Burton Greene with R*time, Burton's Time.

It is a Burton Greene increasingly occupied with, and singularly original in the composition zone. There are four Greene pieces, four more co-written with Silke Rollig, and one by Silke. They have angular memorability, have a post-Mingus-like arc to their melodic-harmonic unfolding (as Bob Rusch suggests in the liners), but nevertheless occupy their own special place.

The compositions are freely and imaginatively realized by a seasoned and nicely blended ensemble that includes of course Burton on piano, Reut Regev on trombone, Adam Lane on bass, and Igal Foni on drums. Michael Attias on alto makes it a quintet for the last half of the program.

These are excellent players all, perhaps the biggest surprise in Reut Regev, who is a trombonist with a definite original presence. I have not heard her previously and she impresses me as a player.

The emphasis throughout is on the compositions and how to play them freely while leaving room within the interstices for improvisational sequences. That happens consistently and effectively.

Burton's Time is an album that stays in the mind after hearing. It is new jazz that moves forward with Burton's special sense of form and structure-- free, yes, but also rigorous and memorable from a melodic-structural point of view.

It is an achievement, certainly one of Burton's best in the last decade. I do recommend it strongly.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Oh, Jazz. Po' Jazz? I Don't Think So.

There's a predictable but dismally self-serving cycle in the jazz community of late. Somebody who either doesn't matter or doesn't get attention paid to them says something that could be interpreted as maligning "jazz". Everybody gets indignant, outraged and defensive with a "circle the wagons" and "protect the settlers" mentality. They put forward their names, expose themselves as the "real champions" of the music, get publicity, but then otherwise the effect is nil. No one is converted. The Illuminati are comforted, maybe, but that's about it.

If the major print media are in trouble they most certainly aren't going to turn to jazz to save them. They don't give a damn about it in the end and in fact they don't likely know anything about it these days. Hell, even rock does not get covered fairly or squarely in the media now--it's about the chart-topping common-denominator figures and nothing really to do with music. So let's face it, with some exceptions the mainstream establishment media is not the place where jazz will get its due.

Jazz has gone underground, much of it. It may stay that way. Nonetheless it's the jazz underground where you need to look for the health of the music, the players who struggle on without much recognition, the writers who cover the most interesting of the players (not necessarily the NAMES) out there for the love of it, the audiences who no longer look to establishment spokesmen to ratify the knowledge they've gained by sheer street-level involvement.

These are the people to extol and these are where to look for the good things, where the future of jazz lies. Or so I think. I am posting this here because I am sick of the sensationalist approach to the music. And as far as I am concerned there's nothing more to say except "listen"!

Darius Jones, Matthew Shipp, Cosmic Leider: The Darkseid Recital

You take two players of real breadth, stature, improvisational genious maybe, and you put them together. What will be the result? Sometimes you can't be sure the two will mesh. That's not the case today. Take the rolling-and-tumbling all-over-the-piano ballet of Matthew Shipp and put him with and against the starkly purposive alto of Darius Jones. You get Cosmic Lieder: The Darkseid Recital (AUM Fidelity 088).

It's from a couple of different live get-togethers recorded between 2011-13. It amazes, if I might suggest, with its bold give-and-take. This is free improvisation of the best sort. When Matt asserts a way through the open field, Darius counters with his own way, and both work together beautifully. Now that would be great whatever the content, pretty much, but what excites is the wealth of invention involved. Structure gets into the picture, the structure of the moment, but not just any moment. It's moment-ful as it is event-ful. There are spontaneous musical events that occur one after the other and each is in its own way a surprise, and each in every given segment works with the segments before and after to form a complete statement.

Now maybe that's easy to say but it's true of the music here throughout. You listen closely, you hear how it all works together and you revel in it. The best free music has something to say and, if everything is right, says it with consistency, with excitement, with an inner presence. That's what this set does.

Matthew Shipp is an institution among avant-free pianists today. He's paid the dues and he's surmounted the obstacles to forge a playing style that belongs to himself alone and he comes through, here as elsewhere, as one of THE CREATORS. Darius Jones may not be as well-known. But he too has that something here, that one-to-one thought-to-execution lucidity. His soulful abrasiveness and intensive line creativity complements what Shipp is doing excellently.

So that is what I feel after a good number of listens. If somebody wanted to know what is going on in the free-avant sectors right now, I would recommend she/he listen to this, among some select others, to get it. That's how strong I think this set is. Strength. It's here.

Oh, this release has an official street date of August 12th. But you can order it now direct from AUM, and/or you can pre-order a download version from i-tunes.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Karen Mantler, Business is Bad

Karen Mantler carries with her an originality that reminds me just a little of Bob Dorough. There is a sometimes very dark humor involved, a sensibility that is both playful and insightful, a singer-songwriter with a lyrical and melodic gift. She is the fruitful progeny of Carla Bley and Michael Mantler, and she seems to have imbibed a little of both in her music. Plus she can sing.

All this I know from listening a bunch of times to her new album, Business is Bad (ECM XtraWatt 14 B0021138-02). It's on the surface a simple affair, with Karen on lead vocals, piano, and harmonica; Doug Wieselman on guitar and bass clarinet; and Kato Hideki on bass. They romp through Karen's songs with style and grace.

The songs catch the spirit of our times. People are hungry out there, some people are going through financial nightmares (myself included), we lose loved ones and friends, we struggle through horrid winters, natural disasters and an untold number of everyday peevances, and yet here we are anyway.

Karen captures that with a superior sense both in lyrics and delivery and a strong, yet gentle vocal demeanor. These are songs that stay with you, hit home in places where you emotionally and experientially dwell. They've got melodic clout, too.

It's a zinger! Nowadays we need somebody to sing for us honestly about what it can be like to be alive right now. Karen does that admirably. Spanning a space between jazz per se and a straightforward delivery of her impactful songs, Karen Mantler delivers the goods, very much HER goods!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Farmers By Nature, Love and Ghosts, Gerald Cleaver, William Parker, Craig Taborn

Love and Ghosts (AUM Fidelity 089/90) constitutes the latest, third album by Farmers By Nature, the name given the trio of Gerald Cleaver (drums), William Parker (contrabass) and Craig Taborn (piano). It is officially on the streets August 12th but you can order it now directly from the label.

I don't believe I've heard the first two albums, but I can say that this double live set is some of the finest avant piano trio music I've heard so far this year.

What's so impressive is the wide variety of territories and moods the trio covers. They can get inside themselves collectively and give out with some very inner musings, they can worry phrases until they become cosmic otherness, and they can scorch you with some heavy statements of transcendence.

The remarkable interplay of three equal partners makes for music that rivets. William Parker is lucid and supercharged with ideas; Gerald Cleaver plays with an aural awareness most drummers don't get near; and Craig Taborn never sounded better on piano, hiply chordal, melodically alive, tumbling into open zones without a safety net, taking risks that pay off every time, locking into patterns that develop and set the stage for a further ripping apart of the heavens.

Seriously this one blows you away. Two full CDs of live trio and they never flag while giving your ears much to digest and dig.

This is a holy grail of free music in many ways. It's one excellent example of what a free-avant piano trio can do when all members are gifted and inspired.

Just get it!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Akira Sakata, Giovanni di Domenico, Iruman

One cannot be everywhere at once, ear-wise or otherwise. The result is that I am guilty of paying insufficient attention to Japanese reedman Akira Sakata over the years. I am catching up though (type his name in the search box for two previous postings), and as luck would have it I received a copy of his recent disk with pianist Giovanni di Domenico, Iruman (Mbari 21).

I am very glad I did. This is a 40-something minute get together of the two that shows an avant sensitivity and a synthesis of Japanese roots and international expression. Akira plays alto, clarinet, and vocalizes a bit while Giovanni plays a centered outness on piano that suits well Akira's brightly explosive outbursts between seas of calm-tone contrasts.

Akira sounds excellent on both alto and clarinet. Giovanni has lots of avant fullness that comes through and plays off of Sakira's well-conceived reed spontaneity. They run a gamut of expression here and do so with long-form and miniaturist monumentality.

It's an excellent outing!

Friday, August 1, 2014

Rodrigo Amado Motion Trio & Peter Evans, Live in Lisbon

Today we revel a bit in the second volume of the meeting of trumpet firebrand Peter Evans and tenormaster Rodrigo Amado and his Motion Trio, Live in Lisbon (No Business NBLP 75). The first, a CD, I posted on last month, July 10th to be exact.

The companion album up today takes on the LP/Vinyl format in a limited edition of 300. It's a live set with plenty of the torque of the companion volume. Peter on trumpet, Rodrigo, tenor sax, with Miguel Mira, cello, and Gabriel Ferrandini, drums, show you they aren't about to let up anytime soon. Perhaps never! In an infinite incandescence? Anything is possible and as long as I could stay around and dig it, why not?

Seriously though this one gives you hot blasts of freedom and quiet gusts of playfulness in proportion and balance, the quiet affording a change of pace, then more heat! Everybody shows what they are made of, with of course Rodrigo and Peter sculpting sound brilliantly with no let up on note choice. Miguel and Gabriel give you a special sort of rhythm section that springs forward and falls back definitively and dynamically.

Peter seems in an especially puckish mood with full use of sound color. Rodrigo follows up and comes back with some torrid heat that puts everyone over the top. Amado and Evans are some of the very finest practitioners in avant improvising today and Live in Lisbon gives you more reasons why.

This album won't be around long at 300 copies so I'd get it quickly if I didn't already have it. But the CD reviewed last month is especially essential so...really you might do well with both!! That's what I'd recommend.

It's an important go-round for this quartet. I hope they get together again soon, because they have chemistry in abundance and really rise to the occasion of intersection.

Highly recommended!